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Broadband's Impact

Jim Baller, Champion of Municipal Broadband, Fights the Fight for More Than 25 Years

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August 1, 2020 — Jim Baller has dedicated much of his life to advocating for universal high capacity broadband.

Baller was inspired to become a broadband advocate when he had a lull in his practice as an energy attorney.

He began doing pro bono work for the American Public Power Association, a national association representing the interests of America’s 2,000 publicly-owned electric utilities, in the early 1990s.

During this time, Baller wrote a white paper for APPA comparing the emerging period in telecom to the period of electrification in the power industry.

APPA and many of its members were growing increasingly concerned that the history of the power industry would repeat itself in the telecom era. Many rightfully feared that phone and cable companies would focus on profitable urban markets, thus leaving rural communities behind in the emerging era of advanced digital communications.

Baller’s paper contributed to a national conversation about using the public power model to regulate the telecom era.

Screenshot of Jim Baller from a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event

In 1995, Baller and his colleagues began what would become a long, brutal fight against legislation preventing municipal broadband.

His attempt was able to impact the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

In response to a Texas law passed in 1995, when incumbent providers were first lobbying for states to adopt legislation against municipal broadband, APPA worked to get language inserted into Section 253 of the Telecom Act that they thought would stop state laws preventing municipal broadband once and for all.

APPA’s language declared that no state statute, regulation or other legal requirement may prohibit the ability of “any entity” to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.

When the decision reached the Supreme Court of the United States, in Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, the Court found they “couldn’t be sure that Congress meant “any entity” to apply to public entities, and not just to private entities, so it therefore had to find that Section 253 did not authorize the [Federal Communications Commission] to preempt the state barriers in question,” Baller told Broadband Breakfast.

Attempting to shape a National Broadband Plan

But Baller did not give up on his quest.

In 2008, Baller and his colleagues began to work on a call to action, which they planned to send to whichever party won the 2008 presidential election.

Working on the document forced the coalition to drill down into their common values, goals and objectives. The crew went on to form the U.S. Broadband Coalition, establishing six committees to advise the new administration on major issues.

“There was so little understanding of the big picture at the time,” Baller recalled in a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which reflected several of the ideas included in the call to action, such as the need for substantial federal support for broadband deployment and adoption.

Congress created the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program and the Broadband Initiatives Program, the first significant federal broadband subsidy programs unconnected to the universal service fund. The measure also required the FCC to develop a National Broadband Plan.

While federal recognition of these demands was a big win for Baller and his colleagues, he did not stop his efforts there.

In 2014, alongside Joanne Hovis, Baller co-founded the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, which is now comprised of more than 600 organizations and individuals who support the authority of local communities to make choices surrounding broadband internet.

CLIC has participated in numerous battles over barriers to public broadband initiatives. Members often champion the importance of local broadband and defend municipal broadband against state governments.

Baller maintained that the availability of municipal broadband impacts “economic development, educational opportunity, public safety, access to affordable modern health care, smart transportation, energy efficiency, environmental protection, cost-effective government service and so much more.” He has written extensively on the relationship between broadband and economic development.

“It would be great if barriers to local internet choice were suddenly to disappear, thereby removing CLIC’s main reason for being,” Baller said. “Unfortunately, we do not see that happening anytime soon. So we’ll just have to keep up the good fight.”

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Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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Broadband's Impact

Broadband Speeds Have Significant Impact on Economy, Research Director Says

From 2010 to 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove .04 percent increase in GDP, the study found.

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Photo of Alan Davidson of the NTIA, Caroline Kitchens of Shopify, Raul Katz of Columbia University (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Broadband and higher speeds have made significant contributions to economic growth over the last decade, according to a study discussed at a Network On conference Tuesday.

Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at Columbia University, conducted his research to determine where the United States economy would be if broadband had not evolved since 2010. He developed four models to explain the economic contribution of broadband, and all found support to suggest that broadband development has contributed to substantial economic growth.

The long-run economic growth model showed that between 2010 and 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove a .04 percent increase in gross domestic product – the measure of the value of goods and services produced in the nation. States with higher speed broadband had an economic impact of an additional 11.5 percent.

“States with higher speeds of broadband have a higher economic effect,” said Katz. “Not only is there penetration as a driver, but there’s also… return to speed. At faster speeds, the economy tends to be more efficient.”

The study found that if broadband adoption and speed had remained unchanged since 2010, the 2020 GDP would have been 6.27 percent lower, said Katz.

Caroline Kitchens, a representative for ecommerce platform Shopify, said Tuesday that there’s been great growth in the ecommerce business, which relies entirely on a broadband connection. “Worldwide, Shopify merchants create 3.5 million jobs and have an economic impact of more than $307 billion. It goes without saying that none of this is possible without broadband access.”

“We have really seen firsthand how broadband access promotes entrepreneurship,” said Kitchens, indicating that this has promoted a growing economy in over 100 countries.

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